Looking to visit your first Scottish distillery? Or looking to bag a few more? Well you’re in luck because we’ve compiled a list of Scottish distilleries with visitor centre information. Not all distilleries have visitor centres, and fewer of them have easily accesible online information about tours. So I have added links for distillery visitor centre websites or websites that contain information about visiting. I have also marked the ones we’ve been to with a “V” and those that we had tours at with a “T”. This is to indicate that we will write up post about these in the future (if we haven’t done so already). There will also be links to our distillery visit posts designated by “Post”.
Port Ellen is known for the closed distillery whose whisky now fetches insane prices at auctions, however the site of the distillery is now used as a maltings. The maltings is owned by Diageo and thus supplies Caol Ila and Lagavulin, however they also supply Ardbeg, Laphroaig, Kilchoman, Bunnahabhain, and Tobermory (for Ledaig) . While this site is usually closed to visitors, they open it up for tours once a year during the Islay Feis Ile (music and whisky festival) . We were lucky enough to go to Feis ile this year and obviously had to go on the maltings tour! Here’s a brief summary of the tour for those who are interested.
My favourite thing about Nikka is how adventurous they are with their releases. It really reflects the character of their founder Masataka Taketsuru who pioneered the art of whisky making in Japan. This expression exemplifies Nikka’s unique approach to whisky. It’s a blended whisky served up at cask strength (you don’t see that often!). Hence “From the barrel”, indicating that it is basically direct from the barrel. According to their website, they marry the blend in used casks for 3-6 months before bottling. While I could not find information about this anywhere, I am assuming that the whisky going into this blend is from Nikka’s Japanese distilleries: Yoichi and Miyagikyo. Although they could have also used whisky from their Scottish distillery, Ben Nevis distillery. Just for clarification, Miyagikyo distillery has both a malt distillery and a grain distillery. So whisky from Miyagikyo could be either. Some other adventurous expressions from Nikka include: Nikka Coffey Malt, Nikka Coffey Grain, and Nikka Pure Malt. We were gifted a bottle of “From The Barrel” by our friends, Frank and Sabrina, in Munich, Germany!
Type: Blended Whisky
Distillery: Presumably a blend of Yoichi, Miyagikyo, and Miyagikyo grain
Age: No Age Statement
Cask: No statement, but married for 3-6 months in oak casks before bottling
Twas the 200th year of Lagavulin Distillery, and the whiskers were all abuzz about the Feis Ile 2016 release but magistrates at Diageo spoke not a peep about what was perhaps the most anticipated Lagavulin release ever. Only hours before they opened up their doors on Saturday (May 21st), the word spread round that the 200th Anniversary Feis Ile bottling would be an 18 year old with 6000 bottles produced and priced at $125. It was, to be frank, a bit of a let down considering last years 24 year old which was only 3 quid more at £128. To make it even more lackluster, the casks used were not particularly novel for them. Refill bourbon hogsheads and bodega sherry butts. Actually pretty much identical to the Lagavulin Jazz Festival 2015 bottling. And since the globally distributed 200th anniversary bottling was an 8 year old, I was hoping for something extra special for the Feis Ile bottling.
The Ardbeg Galileo was released in 2012 to commemorate Ardbeg’s first space adventure. What’s all this about? Well the story goes that one of the lead people at NanoRacks (a company producing lab equipment for space missions) approached Ardbeg and asked them if they would be interested in doing a little whisky experiment. This experiment was basically to send up Ardbeg spirit into space in test tubes with oak shavings to see how the spirit would age in a micro-gravity environment. Thus the endeavor was to make space whisky. How cool is that? Very cool.
In order to mark the occasion, Ardbeg released this aptly named Galileo expression which seemed to cause a bit of confusion amongst the uninitiated. For a while (and possibly still today) some people thought that the Galileo was in fact space whisky from this experiment. While the bottles did seem a bit expensive at the time, they were no where near expensive enough or rare enough to be space whisky. That’s common sense folks.
I was particularly attracted to the Galileo because my father worked on the space mission of the same name. While I am still looking to buy a bottle at a reasonable price as a gift for him, we were able to get a sample when we visitied Ardbeg with the Water of Life Society. From a whisky standpoint this is quite an interesting whisky because it is, to my knowledge, the only official bottling of Ardbeg that was aged in wine casks (Corryvrecken was aged in ex-wine casks that had been washed out to remove all wine residue). So without further ado, let’s taste!
Distillery: Ardbeg Distillery
Age: 12 Years Old (Distilled 1999 bottled June 7th 2012)
Cask: Ex-bourbon and Marsala Casks
Price: Around £80 when it was first released in 2012. Now around £120 at auctions and more in stores.
Tis a long story this one, with many factions developing along the way. It began in 2013 when the first batch of Bowmore Devil’s Cask was released. With 6,000 bottles and an RRP of about £60, it was sold out before most people even knew it was available. What was so special about this bottling that made people go wild? Well I guess the marketting was spot on and the packaging didn’t hurt. But probably the big deal was that it was a Bowmore fully matured in first fill sherry casks and bottled at cask strength. These kinds of things tend to excite the whisky geeks (definitely excited me). And that colour!
It’s afternoon on Islay on the first day of Feis Ile and we’ve just finished the Bowmore tour. Sitting at the Bowmore bar our tour guide tells us we can try some more things if we like. My eyes instantly focus on the Bowmore 23 year old port matured sitting on the back counter. “Could we try that one?”, I say completely expecting to have my cheeky request denied. “Sure”, the bar lady says, “but just a wee bit because it’s usually £25 a dram”. Nice! That’s how AliceInWhiskyland and I got our hands on this premium spirit.
What’s so special about this whisky? Well it’s an old Islay whisky fully matured in port casks and an official bottling to boot! These days, Islay whiskies older than 20 years are somewhat hard to come by, whiskies fully matured in port casks are pretty rare and to be fully matured for 23 years is nearly unheard of. I think it’s safe to say that Islay official bottling with all these factors is super rare. So I am guessing that’s the reasoning behind the overwhelming price tag.
I was certainly excited about this expression for all those reasons (except for the price) and I am still looking forward to a Madeira Cask aged Bowmore if/when they ever release one. Or a sherry/port/madeira vatted expression like I suggested to Bowmore on Facebook for the Mizunara competition:
“Bowmore Pirate’s Cask – Whisky from Port, Madeira, and Sherry casks representing the important trade routes during the 16th century (Portugal and Spain) that were often crawling with pirates looking to plunder ships filled with riches. These trading ships would bring fortified wine with them as it was more resistant to spoilage. Often these wines were Port or Sherry but also Madeira as the Island of Madeira was an important port of call where sailors could stock up on supplies before their long voyage.
Thus it is feasible that a rogue Scottish ship could have acquired these casks by dubious means and then upon returning home filled them up with spirit. Bowmore Pirate’s Cask.
Also all those casks taste great.”
Pirate’s Cask all the way!! Hint hint Bowmore😉. Here’s hoping that they’ll give me some credit if they do make this or at least send me some samples :p.
Alright, enough of the chit chat, let’s taste this!
Age: 23 Years Old
Cask: Port cask, full maturation